State of the industry: Insider's perspective - Part I

February 07, 2019
Written by Gary Jones
One word to sum up the ‘state of the industry’. Precarious? Bewildering? Exciting? Such a ‘review’ is, of course, a momentary snap-shot, and no doubt by the time this is in print, things may have changed. For now however, a number of critical issues for the greenhouse industry (veg, cut flowers, bedding, nursery, potted crops) came to mind. It was a long list, so I canvassed the thoughts of BC industry leaders to identify priorities.

Gas: For once, for a short while at least, cannabis is not the number one topic of conversation in BC. On October 9th, a major gas supply pipeline in northern BC ruptured. The effect on growers’ businesses has been nothing less than catastrophic. Gas prices sky-rocketed, supplies were cut overnight to practically nothing and have since only returned to but a bare minimum. This at a time of year when veggie and poinsettia growers are finishing crops and temperature management is critical. Executive director of the BC Greenhouse Growers Association Linda Delli Santi said that the “Gas pipeline is the BIG issue right now for [BC greenhouse] growers. Reductions in availability mean the National Energy Board is capping supply (85 per cent maximum), and locations near the end of lines are unlikely to get what they need. Growers will not have full heating capacity at the beginning of the [vegetable] growing season, meaning that many have decided to delay planting by about 6 weeks on average. The dramatic price increase (up to $18/GJ in October,” [even closing one night in mid-Nov at $103/GJ!] “makes planning and budgeting difficult.” The Ministry of Agriculture sees it similarly, “The gas pipeline explosion may have a huge impact on the sector. Industry expects the cost of natural gas to increase and use to be curtailed this winter. Both will negatively impact the bottom line,” said David Woodske, BC Ministry of Agriculture. Another potted plant grower said, “We have gas, as well as oil and propane, and had to switch to alternatives for three days (schedule 27 interruptible). But that costs money (at the time, the equivalent $ per GJ puts our alternates at 5X higher than the pre-explosion rate).”

Cannabis: Large glasshouses, including major propagators, continue to sell out, merge, or form new partnerships. While much of the veggie crop area converted to cannabis may ultimately be grown in new glasshouses, this wholesale change will likely affect the vegetable marketing agencies, additionally now dealing with the gas issue and likely delays to 2019 production. The politics and unpredictable permitting delays of cannabis greenhouse planning applications, and simply the amount of new construction, is further complicating any greenhouse build and repair scheduling.

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Workforce: Effects of rising minimum wage are felt immediately and impact business bottom line directly. Minimum wage disparity across Canada means short-term workers favouring one province over another, leading to chronic shortages in some. Says Delli Santi “Minimum wage and ‘Employer Health tax’ cuts into bottom line very hard.” Requirements for large growers to pay health tax have gone largely unreported but this will kick in starting January 1st.

Not to sound too pessimistic, but one potted plant producer emphasized this, saying “Three hits to the bottom line (gas, minimum wage and ‘payroll tax’): makes you wonder why we beat ourselves over the head all these years.”

Simply sourcing labour got a whole lot worse this year. Attracting new entrants has been one long-standing aspect we all know about. But as Woodske says, “Access to SAWP [Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program] labour was a huge issue this year. Will it be resolved in 2019? Industry hopes it will.” SAWP has been going for 52 years, currently brings in 30,000+ workers across Canada each year and according apple producer John Ardiel “There would be no horticultural industry in Ontario” without SAWP (The Grower, 2018). Current changes to the process and the ensuing chaos are certainly causing headaches.

Globalisation, politics and bugs: While the dairy industry seemed to be the sacrificial cow of recent negotiations around NAFTA and its replacement USMCA, global trade politics will always continue to provide uncertainty for those growing perishable products. Of course, new (foreign) pests and diseases continue to keep day-to-day crop management, let’s say, interesting.

Next time, we’ll take a look at some positives and opportunities. | See Part II of Gary's report here


Gary Jones is co-chair of horticulture at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Langley, BC. He sits on several industry committees and welcomes comments at

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